Lucky McKee’s The Woods is the director’s follow-up to his great 2003 debut May. That was a masterful horror/black comedy mixing elements of Frankenstein and Carrie to tell the wrenchingly sad and achingly beautiful – if horrific and disturbing – story of a lonely young girl who simply wants to make a connection and learns “if you can’t meet a friend, make one.”
McKee is in no less homage-y territory here: There are elements reminiscent of both Carrie (yet again) and Dario Argento’s classic Suspiria within this tale set in 1965 New England (I’d assume that’s where it’s set, but it’s never revealed). We meet Heather (Bruckner), a troubled youth who has started a fire in her home and whose parents (including hammy actor extraordinaire Bruce Campbell) decide to ship her off to a private all-girls Academy.
This school is somewhat off-putting and strange, and ultimately the headmistress (Patricia Clarkson, creepy and realistic all at once) is near-immediately suspicious of the young upstart she’s admitted to her school.
Soon, disturbing noises, darkly lit sojourns to off-the-beaten-path territories within the school grounds, and more than a few cliched myths and confrontations between adversarial students rear their ugly heads, and we have a rather straight-forward thriller – especially coming from the young and promising writer-director of one of my all-time favorite horror films.
Mr. McKee, as I’ve read, may have had this film taken away from him. Still, some if not all of the old McKee touches are present: especially a creepily slowed down version of the classic “You Don’t Own Me” straining on the soundtrack at various intervals – including the end credits.
Ultimately, this is a very standard and mildly boring horror-lite effort that neither engages that much, nor wows us with anything really new. Well-made and intriguing, it’s worth checking out on a cold, dark and scary night…